RAZORED ZEN

Monday, September 01, 2014

Review of Metallica: This Monster Lives

Metallica: This Monster Lives, the inside story of Some Kind of Monster, the documentary movie. Written by Joe Berlinger (the filmmaker) and Greg Milner.


I gave this three and a half stars. This is about the making of the Metallica documentary called Some Kind of Monster. The primary filmmaker, Joe Berlinger, wrote the book, with help from someone named Greg Milner. I’d never heard of either of them but then I never pay much attention to moviemakers. I've seen the movie, though, and thought it was pretty good. This gives a lot more detail and gives information that couldn't be fitted into a movie.  Here's what I liked best, 1) the stuff about Metallica and the extra details that the movie didn't show, 2) the reasons why some material that was filmed didn't make it into the movie, 3) the way in which the material was often presented out of chronological order in order to show the "essence" of the story rather than an absolute straight ahead telling, and 4) the reactions of Metallica to the movie.

Other than the fact that I don’t really buy the “essence” comment, I liked all this material. Showing material out of chronological order is manipulating the material to tell a story in a certain way and to make certain points arrived at by the filmmakers. I understand why it’s done, for dramatic effect. Although Berlinger seems to feel strongly about the “essence” of the story concept, he admits that this is a selection process, and since they filmed thousands of hours and had to cut it down to movie length you can imagine that making such choices was pretty tough.

What I didn't care as much for: a lot of information given by Joe Berlinger about his previous documentaries and how much he grew as a person while making this one. I'm in no way, shape, or form a movie buff, or even interested in the whole field of film. This material might prove much more interesting to someone who is. It was well written and flowed with the other material for the most part. I just didn’t really care. My sole interest was in the band.

The one film-related thing I did find interesting was that Berlinger is the guy who handled the filming of Blair Witch 2, which was critically lambasted but which was actually far superior to the original Blair Witch movie. That movie was a completely faked documentary, or mockumentary. In other words, Blair Witch 1 was one of the silliest moments in film history. Berlinger talked about how he didn’t like the concept of the mockumentary and I absolutely agree with him and this upped my respect for him considerably. He also talked about how the failure of Blair Witch 2 triggered a long period of depression for him and made him think his career was over. I could sympathize with him here for sure.

All in all, I liked the book quite a lot. It was perhaps a little long, and I might have liked more selected pieces of dialogue from the band, but it was worth my time.
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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Storm Belgium Review

I'm afraid I didn't care much for this one. As the first in a series of WWII books told from the German point of view, it sounded interesting. The back cover blurb described it as "devastatingly accurate," and began with the phrase, "The invasion of Belgium has begun.

I don't know about the devastatingly accurate part. It sounded accurate to me but I'm not an expert on this particular history. I've discovered that Gunther Lutz was probably Charles Whiting, who wrote many nonfiction books about WWII. I’ve read a few of those and generally rated them pretty highly. Thus, I can believe the accuracy statement.

However, the fictional story here was just flat out boring. It certainly didn't start with the invasion of Belgium. The book is only 186 pages long but we spent the first 125 pages following the paratroopers (Jagers) through training. There's one exciting scene during the training period, but that was it. There’s also a sex scene, which was OK and probably done to provide some “gritty” realism.

After the attack on Belgium actually began, around page 125, it concluded again after about twenty-five pages. The rest of the book was aftermath. The fighting itself was OK, though nothing to write home about. But by the time I got to it I didn't really care. Most of the characters also did not seem very realistic to me, although I liked the two main characters.

I’m sorry to say that I was very disappointed and won't be reading any more in this series. Whiting also wrote fictional WWII novels under other pseudonyms, including Leo Kessler, but I’m wary of trying any of them. I may continue to read his nonfiction but I doubt I’ll be looking at any of his fiction. At least not right away.

Here’s a quote from the section after the battle in Belgium began, and after the Jager's glider has crashed in the water. Note that it’s all one sentence.

“However, this mood of optimism was balanced by the continuing menace of the haphazard machine gun fire as the Belgian fortress troops continued to rake the mass of wreckage caught in the wing supports and control wires the shattered glider brought with it, besides turning their attention to two bodies that were now floating face down in the centre of the canal, drifting slowly away with the current at the centre of the channel, and pinkly suffusing the water as they did so.”

I’ll leave you with that. Not exactly compelling action.  

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The All Consuming

I've known people who have told me that they possess a "stillness" of mind. They say they can sit and just "be," without a constant yammering and clamoring from their own thoughts. I'm not such a person, though I envy those who are.

Thoughts surge constantly through my head. They careen this way and that. They roil in eddies and rush in cataracts over tumbling rocks. Many of them are anxious thoughts, worried thoughts. This is one reason I used to drink. Alcohol would shut at least some of the thoughts down.

Don't get me wrong. I like thinking. I just wish many times that I could keep my thoughts on task, that I could wield them like a hammer instead of having them act more like a spill of thumbtacks.

There are times when my thoughts do flow the way I want them. It happens if I'm reading a really good book, or watching a really good movie. I've noticed in the last few years that it happens when I get involved in playing a video game. My mind starts making dozens of decisions a minute but they are all focused, all flowing in the same direction.

It also happens when I'm writing. At least sometimes. I've come to realize that when I say, at the end of the day, "the writing went well," it's because I achieved that flow. My focus had narrowed, had become sharpened onto one primary topic, the creation of a scene. This state of flow is very pleasant to me. The worries go away. The focus becomes purely on the now, the moment of creation or involvement. I call it, "The All Consuming."

I've also realized lately that this has always been a thing with me. There's a story in my Micro Weird collection actually called "Thought Flow." It almost perfectly illustrates my point. And it was one of the first ten stories I ever wrote.

How about you? Do you possess stillness of mind, or do your thoughts run more like mine? And what do you think of "The All Consuming?" Do you experience it? Do you like it?
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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

New Friends in the House, and School

Just to note, I start back to school tomorrow. So at least for a while I won't be visiting blogs quite as regularly as I have during the summer. That's not what I want to talk about, though. I want to talk about books. Here goes:

New Friends in the House:

I mentioned the wonderful Mystery Cove Book Shop that we found on our Maine trip. Let me tell you what I picked up there. I would have bought a lot more if we’d not had luggage constraints. But they do have a webpage so I will probably order more through that.

First up, I got The Rat Bastards #4: Meat Grinder-Hill. They didn’t have #1 or I’d have gotten that one. This series was published by Jove Books in the 1980s and there were sixteen total books. They were written under the name John Mackie, whose real name is Len Levinson. Levinson talks about these books on his blog, and the whole series has been rereleased as ebooks. I’d heard about this series for a long time but had never actually seen a print copy. I was glad to pick this one up and look forward to reading it.


Second, I got Renegade #14: Harvest of Death. The blurb on the front reads, “Captain Gringo cuts a hot path of love and fury through a jungle in hell!”  How could I resist? This was a series of western novels written by Lou Cameron under the name Ramsay Thorne. There appear to be 36 volumes in the series. Again, I’d heard of this series for years but never seen a print copy of one. They only had #14 so that’s the one I got. I’ve read quite a lot of Cameron under his own name.

 Third, I picked up Nazi Paratrooper: Storm Belgium. This is the first in a series by Gunther Lutz. I’d never heard of this series before, but apparently there are at least five books in the series, and they tell the story of WWII from the German perspective. I couldn’t find anything on Lutz himself or on this series. The one I have is published by Sphere Books. I’m pretty curious about this but so far nothing informative has turned up. (Note: I've actually started reading this one and it is pretty weak.)



Fourth, I got Phantom Regiments, a collection of ghost war stories. The stories were selected by Robert Adams and there’s a great cover by Ken Kelley. Baen did quite a few of this kind of collection and I’ve generally enjoyed them. I see this one has quite a few negative reviews so I’ll have to see what my take is on it.

I do love talkin' 'bout books!

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Friday, August 15, 2014

Quest for Books: Part Two

 After the disappointment at the bookstore that had closed 20 minutes before we got there, we drove into the town of Ellsworth, Maine to look for Lana’s photography stuff. After visiting Radio Shack, we found that the only place we could get what she needed was Wal-Mart. Though not our favorite shopping spot, we seemed to have little choice in the matter. I also felt a surge of hope because I knew that in my part of the world Wal-Mart carried books. Perhaps I could get my fix of fiction there.

Wal-Mart was open. They even had books. They had romance novels, YA novels, and a handful of westerns and thrillers. They had about three SF works. I don’t generally read romance novels, although if it had been all that was available I certainly would have bought some. Most of the YA, westerns, and SF they had were ones I’d already read or ones I had at home to be read. I finally found an Alien tie-in book called Sea of Sorrows by James A. Moore. I quickly plucked that one up, although I don’t typically read a lot of media tie-in books other than Star Trek: TOS.

Between the book on Maine ghosts and the Alien book, I was temporarily fortified. However, I was still a bit worried because I was tearing through the Maine book very quickly. I could soon run out of fiction again. On Saturday, we went to a town called Bar Harbor, which from what I’ve heard was the basis for the fictional town of Collinsport, Maine, from the TV series Dark Shadows. We ostensibly went to Bar Harbor for a whale watching tour. That was mainly for Lana. I wanted to go because I’d been told by a waiter at a restaurant where we’d eaten that Bar Harbor had the biggest bookstore around. I was still asking about bookstores everywhere we went.

However, said waiter was apparently a better waiter than he was a judge of bookstores. We found the store of well repute. It had a few long rows of books and a lot of other stuff I had no interest in. Most of the actual books appeared to be by Stephen King, all of which I had read. The SF section was tiny and mostly consisted of “Game of Thrones.” I found a book called Fun with Kirk and Spock that I bought. I also bought a Jonathan Kellerman novel I hadn’t read. There wasn’t much else, and I finished the short, joke-style Star Trek book within fifteen minutes of getting home.

On Sunday, we went nowhere near anything resembling a bookstore. But on Monday, our last full day in Maine, we saw a sign for a used bookstore as we left Acadia National Park. Four miles down a side road took us to a delightful little place called the Mystery Cove Book Shop, which lies between Bar Harbor and Ellsworth. All my book withdrawal anxiety disappeared and I felt completely at home. I quickly found old friends on the shelves, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Jack Vance, David Gemmell, Robert Adams. But I also found new friends as well. I could have bought half the store but limited myself to four paperbacks because that was about all we could add to our luggage without having to buy a new suitcase. They do ship books, though, so I may end up ordering more from their website.

For my next post, I’ll tell you what I got at Mystery Cove. But for now, just know that I made it three days with only two books to read. I know now that I can face anything.


I just hope I don’t have to.
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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Quest for Books: Part One

While on our recent “hiatus” from social media, Lana and I went to Maine. We stayed at a house kindly lent to us by some blog friends of Lana’s. We had a great time and I’ll post more about that journey later. Today I want to talk about my addiction—to reading. And about the problems it caused me on this trip.

I used to travel with a suitcase of clothes and a briefcase of books. I’d take ten or twelve different paperbacks so I’d have a choice in reading material. I no longer do this because I have a Kindle loaded with hundreds of volumes. As we headed to the airport Thursday, I took only the Kindle and the one paper book I was reading, Three Blind Mice by Ed McBain. I finished the McBain on the flight so, after arriving at our vacation home that evening, I pulled out my electronic library and turned it on. Nothing happened.

 I had just charged the battery so I didn’t think that was the problem. Still, I dutifully hooked up the charger. Again, nothing happened. Not even the indicator light came on. I tried a reset. That didn’t work. I hopped on the net with my laptop to research solutions. None of them worked. I initiated a chat with Amazon support but they couldn’t help either. My Kindle, which I’ve had since February 27, 2009, was dead. I was without reading material.

I began to shake, and even though I’d been reading only a few hours before I felt immediate withdrawal pangs. Just the thought that I couldn’t read if I wanted to was enough to undermine my equilibrium. Despite this, I somehow managed to sleep.

Lana and I were up early Friday and hit the shore to explore and take pictures. On the way back we passed through the town of Winter Harbor and stopped at a 5 and 10 store. They had some nonfiction stuff, mostly birding books and local geographies. I certainly read a lot of nonfiction but my “addiction” is to fiction, to “stories.” Fiction is my heroin. Nonfiction is more like methadone. I did find a book on the ghosts of Maine, which I bought. I also asked every place we went if there were a local bookstore. The checkout lady at the IGA told us there was. It was only two blocks away and was called Serendipity. Serendipity indeed! 

Within minutes we arrived in the parking lot of Serendipity. I could see a book display in the window as we walked up and my withdrawal pangs began to dissipate. Then we came to the front door, which was locked, and found a sign that read: “Closed Friday through Monday.” We were in town precisely from Friday through Monday.


I did not panic, though. On the way in from the airport on Thursday afternoon we’d seen a used bookstore along US Highway 1. It was a long drive but we needed to go into a bigger town to find Lana some photography stuff anyway. So, we headed out. I parked almost in front of the door of the bookstore and immediately noticed two things. First, the big plate glass windows were chock full of books and I could already see numerous titles that I wanted to read. My fingers and eyes began to itch with the need. But there was a second thing to notice. This door too had a sign. It read: “Closed at Three Today.” Our car clock read 3:20. No fiction for me.

To Be Continued:
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